John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The artist Fuller loaded the city with historical details, cryptic symbols, and his own memories.
Stand in awe of this map of London, but don’t try to navigate with it. The pen-and-ink masterwork is so loaded with landmarks, vehicles, creatures, puns, local references, and cryptic symbols you’d need almost as much time as the artist spent making it—a decade—just to take it all in.
“London Town” is the most ambitious project to date from Gareth Wood, the crazed cartographer also known as Fuller. It’s a tripling-down of his previous treatment of Bristol, which took a mere three years to draw, and the effort shines through in every square inch. Populating the hectic city are Jack the Ripper, bicycle superhighways, flocks of grungy pigeons and surveillance cameras, a hobbyist’s quadcopter, that floating pig from the Pink Floyd album cover, and possibly the artist himself, represented as a pair of knobby knees to the west of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The map is unapologetically inaccurate, representing less geography than the memories, moods, and impressions Fuller had as he roamed London. In a statement sent to the media, the artist lays out some of the other stuff he crammed into the drawing:
The River Thames relentlessly serves the city, its shape and placement on the map is instantly recognisable. The Central underground line runs across the middle from Stratford, in the East, to Acton, in the West. The Northern Line, packed with arrows, splits below the elephant and unites at the box of squares, Euston Square.
Beside Tower bridge the Monument reaches up amongst flames in memory of the Great Fire. Above this stands the Gherkin, whose handle turns, creating cash that flows into the dreary sky. Musical notes drift from venues into view from Primrose Hill.
The National Lottery’s symbol of crossing fingers inside the Millennium Dome symbolise our once hopeful attitude for the project and its unknown future. Other landmarks are more obvious to decipher such as the hammer at Hammersmith and the bird cage at Canary Wharf.
Locals can scrutinize the map at openings on September 17 and 18 (RSVP here) and in December at the Royal College of Art. It’s also included in a new book from Gestalten titled, cheekily, Mind the Map.